Although the Dragon capsule itself is created to carry a crew of up to seven astronauts skyward, the one that launched on Saturday - Demo-1 is its designation - is more of a test run: it's carrying a few hundred pounds of cargo, plus a sensor-filled dummy named "Ripley".
The Demo-1 mission, SpaceX's inaugural flight with NASA's Commercial Crew Program, will provide the teams an end-to-end flight test to ensure the spacecraft and systems operate as designed before launching with astronauts.
"Dragon confirmed in good orbit", SpaceX confirmed at 3:00 a.m.
NASA has been relying on Russian help to get to the space lab since it shuttered its shuttle fleet in 2011.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the unmanned Crew Dragon capsule on its nose sits at Kennedy Space Center. The craft will remain docked for five days before de-orbiting and splashing into the Atlantic at the end of next week.
SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk said the launch was "super stressful" to watch, but he's hopeful the capsule will be ready to carry people later this year.
SpaceX's 16-foot-tall (4.88-meter) Crew Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket was set for lift-off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center at 2:49 am (1049 GMT) local time.
The new capsule blasted off aboard the Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX - run by billionaire Elon Musk - at 2.49am from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, lighting up the coastline. SpaceX and Boeing are leading that charge, so the successful Crew Dragon launch represents a major milestone moment.
They both nodded. "Seeing a success like this, that really gives us a lot confidence in the future", said one of them, Bob Behnken.
If the test goes to plan, it will be approved to carry people. "And I'm pretty sure it's not just me, I think everybody within SpaceX feels this and wants to get this right".
It features four seats, three windows, touch-screen computer displays and life-support equipment, as well as eight abort engines to pull the capsule to safety in the event of a launch emergency.
"Previously, we would go close to the space station, and an [ISS robotic] arm would reach out and grab..." Then it would disembark and fly back to Earth, where it would fall through the atmosphere, a big test for the spacecraft's heat shield and parachute system.
The Dragon vehicle, launched by California's SpaceX company on Saturday, is created to make the attachment autonomously.
Boeing is also in the race to end NASA's eight-year drought of launching USA astronauts on US rockets from US soil.
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